News item: The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced May 23 that it is cancelling an April 2014 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to mandate a minimum of two crewmembers on every freight train. Additionally, the agency is preempting, as it may under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution giving the federal government dominion over interstate commerce, all state laws mandating crew size within state borders.
Author: Frank N. Wilner
WATCHING WASHINGTON, MAY 2019 – Oh, the contempt that drippeth from a judicial petition of the Western Coal Traffic League (WCTL), whose members ship and receive by rail some 175 million tons of coal annually. It accuses the Surface Transportation Board (STB) of impersonating a regulatory agency by not acting on long-pending rulemakings, and asks a federal court to order the STB to do as its statute instructs—timely decide cases brought before it.
LEGISLATIVE REPORT, APRIL 2019 – Knock, knock. Who’s there? If at the door are those laboring in official Washington, the answer is, “many new faces”—new congressional committee chairs, regulators, association chiefs, lobbyists and labor negotiators. Does not danger dwell where unfamiliarity and uncertainty lurk?
WATCHING WASHINGTON, APRIL 2019 – Stanley found Livingstone faster than vacancies on the five-member Surface Transportation Board (STB) have been filled, with two remaining more than three years after Congress increased from three the number of Senate-confirmed seats.
Somewhat buried in history is that today’s railroad map is a product of behind-the-scenes actions by former Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Frederick (Fritz) Hollings (D-S.C.), who died April 6 at age 97. He was Commerce Committee Chairman 1987-1995 and 2001-2003, during years Democrats controlled the Senate. He left office in 2005.
WATCHING WASHINGTON, MARCH 2019 – Amtrak seemingly operates in the shadow of a Bat Signal over Gotham—that specially modified searchlight displaying the emblem of a bat, and intended, when lighted, to summon superhero Batman. Rather than Batman, the Amtrak sentinel, with a passenger train emblem, summons self-appointed management surrogates—hopefully helpful railfans; well-intentioned but cash-strapped lawmakers from federal, state and local government; and, surely, the snoopy press corps.
Former Surface Transportation Board (STB) member Deb Miller, a Kansas Democrat, has withdrawn her name from contention for renomination by President Trump to a second term.
Watching Washington, February 2019: Sizzle sells product. No wonder the sizzle of ever-lower operating ratios is leading to remarkably higher railroad share prices. But as operating ratios—operating expenses as a percentage of operating revenue—flirt with a sub-60%, the meaning for the longer term is unclear.
In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) issued Jan. 31, the Republican majority on the National Mediation Board seeks to create a “straightforward election process” to decertify union representation on airlines and railroads whose labor relations are governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA).
If you’re passionate about on-time performance of Amtrak passenger trains traversing freight railroad tracks, you’d best pray for the health of RBG—the increasingly frail 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.